Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Book Links: Bitch, Please: Bitch removes titles from YA feminist list

Last week, Bitch Magazine posted a list of 100 Young Adult Books for the Feminist Reader. Considering I'd just put together my own list of feminist YA books the weekend before, I was definitely interested. I didn't have time to do a deep analysis of what made the list and what didn't, but I was happy to see that there was quite a bit of overlap between the two lists - including books that I consider slightly more obscurely-feminist, like Rampant and Sisters Red.

So imagine my surprise when I get on Twitter tonight and find that the list has been changed! First I was hearing about Margo Lanagan's Tender Morsels being removed. Upon further investigation into the comments, I find that Elizabeth Scott's Living Dead Girl and (gasp) Sisters Red have also been removed.

A couple of us at the office read and re-read Sisters Red, Tender Morsels and Living Dead Girl this weekend.We've decided to remove these books from the list -- Sisters Red because of the victim-blaming scene that was discussed earlier in this post, Tender Morsels because of the way that the book validates (by failing to critique or discuss) characters who use rape as an act of vengeance, and Living Dead Girl because of its triggering nature. Ashley McAllister
Cue internet freak-out.

Bitch totally has the right to use whatever criteria they wish when making up their personal list - but their reasoning here for changing that list is discomforting. Let's break it down:

  • Tender Morsels: character uses rape as vengeance and isn't critiqued/discussed. If you have to have your hand held through Tender Morsels to realize that rape is Bad, you're not mature enough to be reading this book. This is a difficult, gut wrenching book to read. I didn't love it, I felt it dragged, but I never really had a problem with the violence (aside from generally feeling uncomfortable, which I felt was the point), because it's pretty damn obvious that this was all BAD. As commenters at Bitch have pointed out, Tender Morsels is about realizing that you can't hide from the pain and dangers of the world - a very feminist message, as most feminist literature is based on the idea that women need to share their stories, even the hard and painful ones, in order to break the silence around "shameful" things, LIKE RAPE.
  • Living Dead Girl: triggering. Really? We're dropping a book because it may be triggering? Triggering (something that can give a survivor of violence - the sort that often leads to PTSD - terrifying flashbacks) is totally real and a legitimate concern in the feminist community. But to remove a book just because it is triggering is the opposite of the goals of feminist literature discussed above. Living Dead Girl is another terrifying and discomforting book, and could certainly be a trigger for survivors of abuse. But what about the survivors who find solace in knowing that they aren't the only ones who have suffered and survived? And Living Dead Girl is far from the only potentially triggering title on the list - Scott Westerfeld points out in the comments that he has actually received letters from cutters who found Pretties to be triggering.
  • Sisters Red: victim blaming. The Book Smugglers critiqued Sisters Red because of one passage where Scarlett and Silas are dismissive towards young women who are dressed perfectly to attract the attention of the killer werewolves. Yes, it is classic victim blaming. Scarlett, however, is also a troubled young woman with anger issues, and Silas...well, I never totally dug him anyway. Is it a problematic passage? Absolutely. But it clearly wasn't so problematic that it negated the feminist qualities for the people who recommended the title to Bitch and for those readers who chose to ultimately put it on the list. If you re-read the book knowing there's a problem, of course it's going to stick out with out-sized importance. I'm afraid that distracted the re-readers from the other excellent qualities of the book.
I think a lot of us became interested in feminism because we recognize the world isn't a fun loving and happy place - especially for women and other oppressed peoples. We search in vain for feminist literature that not only reflects the realities of the world, but reaffirms that we're right to fight back and offers examples of young women and men who do so - whether it's Frankie orchestrating epic pranks to illustrate institutional sexism or Katsa fighting prejudice against her abilities and her gender to show she can save the day as well as (or better than) any man. Removing a few titles because they illustrate some of the darkness of the world in a way that makes some people uncomfortable is pretty much the antithesis of feminism. Make a note about which titles are potentially triggering, but editing the list this way is insulting to everyone invovled.
Related Posts with Thumbnails